This past weekend was my third and final stop on the 2014 ITU triathlon circuit before the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Edmonton on August 30th. Little did I know it would be more of a circus show than I have ever encountered.
The circus show began a week before I even let for the race as my original guide Ben Collins had to pull out because of a sudden injury. This meant finding a new guide and booking new flights. This wasn’t exactly optimal, especially for the pocket book but these types of things happen when you are competing at an elite level and you have the possibility for two people to get injured as opposed to just one. Thankfully, Colin Riley who guided me in my first ITU race in Dallas this year was up for the call and made arrangements to do the job.
Thursday July 17 in the late morning I left for SEA-TAC airport. Come to find out Uber SUV’s are not cheaper than they other options as it cost $120 to lug my massive bike box and luggage to the airport. A normal Uber car would cost $45 for this same trip . I didn’t have time to call around and scope out prices so that is what I had to go with. From that point on I knew that this trip was going to hit the bank hard.
I arrived at the airport plenty early and everything seemed to be going smoothly. I would fly Seattle to Detroit and then Detroit to Montreal. It just worked out that Colin would be on my flight into Montreal which worked out good. We arrived at 11:45pm in Montreal. We hadn’t fully decided whether we would say in Montreal that night or go straight to Magog but Delta Airlines pretty much made our decision for us as we found out they had not put our bike on the plane and would instead be taking it through Air Canada and planned on getting there at some point in the early morning. Another Team USA teammate had booked a room at the Best Western so we had no option but to get cozy in his packed hotel room. We had had booked a car through Hertz but come to find out they didn’t have our reservation and were all out of SUV’s so this left us scrambling to find something big enough for this massive mother load. We even struck out in our first attempt with Avis as we got a Jeep Cherokee which just wasn’t going to fit it so we went back and just before they were about to close for the night we got exactly what we wanted, a soccer mom van!
The morning came and our bike had still not been delivered to the Best Western. We didn’t have time to mess around with Delta as we had to get to the race site for a mandatory race briefing or we wouldn’t be racing at all. With these ITU race briefings if you are not present and on time for the briefings you don’t race. We found out our bike was at the airport and so we jetted over there and packed the car to head to the unknown town of Magog. If anyone that is not from Canada has ever heard of Magog and knew where it was at I would pay them a large sum of money. From the name, I figured this place had to either be a city in the Ukraine or such a small poe-dunk town that you could drive past and miss it and everyone in the town was in some way shape or form related. Despite our GPS thinking it was back in the States, we made it there and were surprised to find out that it was actually a desirable place to be.
We arrived not long before the briefing but in enough time to open up our bike box to find out that Delta had probably thrown our bike off the plane as the front fork was totally cracked on both sides. We would not be racing if this was not fixed so we scrambled in the foreign town and limited internet service to find a bike shop that could get this done. Luckily, there was a local shop in town affiliated with the race that agreed to do it. I thought I would need to slip them a six pack of beer or some cash under the table to put a rush on it but despite speaking broken english these guys got the job done.
While the bike was being fixed, we had to still go through the motions and convince ourselves that we would still be racing. We had planned to ride the course at the bike familiarization but without a bike that is kind of difficult and so instead we were put in the back seat of the police car for the course tour. I wanted to make up a story that I got very belligerent and out of control about my bike being broke and was arrested for indecent exposure but then I thought better and just told it how it was. Either way, it was a good little ride in the Paddy Wagon and it gave us a view of the course from an entirely new perspective.
Later, at dinner we encountered another unique situation. I don’t know if this was common practice in Canda or not but we basically got thrown out of a pizza place for trying to eat our take out inside. To give you a little background info we walked into this pizza place that was pretty near empty and the menu listed certain pizzas that were buy one get one free. It was pretty much an unbeatable deal and since we had four people it worked out perfectly. We walked up to the counter and here is how the conversation went.
Us: Hello, we would like to get two of the buy one get one free specials. We would like these pizzas …….
Worker: You also get two free drinks with those as well.
Us: Oh sweet!
Worker: Is this take out or sit down?
Us: We will probably just sit down and eat it here
Worker: You only get the free drinks if its take out.
Us: Oh, well can we just order it as take out and then eat it here?
Worker: No, if you order it take out you will have to leave
Us: We can’t just sit down in here and eat it?
Worker: Nope, you will have to leave
We then proceeded to take our pizza and sit down on the sidewalk outside the pizza place and eat it. I had never heard of this or been involved in this scenario before but it definitely was shocking and from a business prospective made no logical sense. In fact, we probably would have ordered some more food if we would have stayed inside and eaten our pizza. Instead, our money contribution at that establishment ended and we moved on.
The next morning was race morning and Colin and I woke up early to test out the freshly fixed Pain Train and get our legs spun out for the race. She road just like new and we returned to our hotel to eat breakfast. The day earlier, we had stopped at one of America’s finest establishments, Walmart to get some breakfast stuff like oatmeal, peanut butter and bananas. We needed a few bowls to eat the oatmeal from and there were many other Team USA members in the hotel restaurant. We didn’t dare attempt to try and eat the oatmeal in the restaurant. We would surely be asked to leave once again. We did ask for a few bowls and just on cue were told “here are a few bowls but you can’t eat that in here.” I kind of understood this one better than the pizza fiasco but it wasn’t like we were homeless bums off the street. We were paying to stay in their hotel so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting our money. Again, it must be a Canadian thing or maybe its just that we were Americans in Canada.
Our race didn’t start until 11:30am. We had to bring all our luggage with us because our flights were out of Montreal at 5:05pm. This meant we would basically cross the finish line and just like Forest Gump keep running straight to the car and to the airport. We had checked the cost for flight changes the night before and it was going to cost $700 each for Colin and I to change our flight to Sunday at any time. I have no idea where they got that amount as it was just as much as we paid for the full roundtrip tickets each but I guess there was no way to contest those prices.
Colin and I had a great race. We went right into our Canadian neighbors house and stole some gold and then immediately left and returned home. It was purely a business trip. Like mentioned before, we continued running from the finish line straight to the car. We packed the bike , including the broken fork that we would send to Delta as a Christmas gift. By 1:45pm we hit the road towards Montreal. At this point every second counted and we had no time to stop for food, use the facilities or wait in traffic jams. Race #2 had begun and it was nearly more difficult and stressful than race #1. The only stop we had to make was to fill up with gas right before arriving at the airport We pulled into the gas station near the airport at 3:50pm. At that point we had 1hr 10minutes until our flight was to take off. Colin and I had strategized that he would drop me off at departures because I had all the luggage which would take time to check. Colin had no luggage and could drive the car back while I dealt with the luggage. If we both got done at the same time then we would go through customs and security together. If I was done first I would get a meet and assist to the gate and meet him there. We hadn’t really devised a plan if one or the other didn’t make it and without cell coverage we weren’t in a great position to notify the other either. I knew this was going to be interesting when the first words that came out of the Delta Desk agent’s mouth were, “You know you only have five minutes to check in and get to customs before they won’t let you on the flight.”
The desk agent at Delta was actually very nice but she did warn me a few minutes later that Colin now only had two minutes to get to customs. She got me a meet and assist escort that would help me drop my bike box at oversized luggage and then escort me to the gate. Just when I thought the circus show was pretty much over and all was good, I learned that was not the case. As we got to oversized luggage, we were greeted as normal by a TSA agent and here is how the encounter went.
TSA Agent: I will need you to open and close that box
Me: Ok (typically I would just leave the box at oversized after the TSA gave the verbal go ahead but I guess this guy did thins a little different)
TSA Agent: Here you go, open the box (as he said this I could see the movement of his arm towards me and I could only guess that he had box cutters in his hand but I could not see them and so I made no move towards his hand. One could only imagine the carnage that would have taken place if I would have reached and grabbed the box cutter and it was an open blade)
Me: Oh, I don’t think you want me to be using a razor if that’s what you are giving me
Meet & Assist Escort: (In an irritated and quick manner) “He’s visually impaired, what are you doing?”
TSA Agent: Ok, you can open it then (after the very irritated escort opened the box, the TSA agent did a halfway inspection of the box and then said to me) “Ok, now I need you to close it.”
Me: I don’t have any tape, (I had already used the tape to close the box once and I was going through security with it, why would I bring more tape to close the box)
TSA Agent: Oh ok, (He reached down and got some tape out of the drawer and handed it to me)
Meet & Assist Escort: (Reached out and grabbed the tape and began taping the box shut. When it came to cutting the tape the TSA agent just stood there until it was quite obvious that we could need some scissors to cut the tape and finally handed them to the escort)
TSA Agent: Ok you are all set
Immediately after leaving the oversized luggage drop off, the meet and assist escort turned to me and said “That was ridiculous. Those guys are idiots.” He was furious about the scenario. I was pretty shocked as well. I was mostly shocked that the TSA Agent was gong to hold out an open razor to a blind/VI individual and tell me to open the box. Even if he didn’t know I was legally blind, you would think that the mere fact that I was with a meet and assist escort that something was not totally normal.
Furious about what had just happened the escort proceeded to bypass to the front of the line at customs and take me straight to the gate without any hesitation. While in security, I heard my name called and thankfully it was Colin. The desk agent had let him through. I was so relieved, it looked like at this point we would make it. Of course, just our luck we made it to the gate and they hadn’t even started to board. The plane ended up taking off about twenty minutes late which I really can’t complain about because we were on it but it was just like Murphy’s Law that we rushed to get there and then of course it was delayed. To be honest, beside the actual triathlon, Murphy’s Law pretty much explained our whole trip. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong!!!